To hear Darren Peterson tell it, his long-running holiday show The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) was created by his love of both dog tricks and puns. “Well, I love doing dog shows, and the name ‘Mutt-Cracker’ occurred to me, and how can you not just base a show around that name?” he says. “And then the ‘sweet’ part – once I thought about ‘Mutt-Cracker (Sweet),’ that just turned into its own little thing. Who’s not going to love that?”
He’d already been doing the show for a few years when he started performing it at the Vortex, where it’s become an unlikely holiday tradition. “I don’t think people necessarily think ‘The Vortex’ and ‘holiday show!’ and yet here we are,” says Melissa Vogt, the Vortex’s managing director. “The Mutt-Cracker has really become our big family tradition. And it’s always a lot of fun.” The Vortex is better known for more adult-oriented, avant-garde shows, so a family friendly dog show is a bit of a departure for them, even as it’s become a yearly occurrence. “It’s something we look forward to doing every year,” Vogt says with a laugh. “You know, we do a lot of hard work and we do a lot of devised work at the Vortex, and so The Mutt-Cracker, when it comes up, it’s like a party. It’s like a celebration, you know? It’s holiday time for us.”
Once it became clear that The Mutt-Cracker was becoming a Vortex holiday tradition, Vogt decided to take a crack at giving the variety show a bit more structure. “A couple of years ago, we were looking at building a better Mutt-Cracker,” she says. “The format is just so wonderful, and the circus aspects are so great, and we were like, ‘What if we really dug into the story and tied it in a little tighter to the original Nutcracker story?’” After some work shopping, Vogt ended up writing a script for the show, which she says has become “a living document,” since it changes a bit from year to year depending on what new circus entertainers Peterson brings on board.
This year, as he does every year, Peterson’s loaded up the show with his favorite animal and human performers. “There are five dogs that do tricks – they’re all rescue dogs – [and] a scarlet macaw. I have juggling, unicycling, rolla bolla,” he says. “It’s just a whole lot of fun. All my favorite things to do. And then we added a lot of really talented actors to carry a really good story… so it’s just a great framework for the dogs and Lauren Macaw to do her tricks.”